School Forest plans major expansion
Over the past 20 years, the Noboken School Forest has seen a considerable increase in use by students and staff of the Antigo School District. What started out as one class taking a camping trip in the spring has developed into programs that have reached a much larger population of students. Just this past school year, we held a forestry day for all 5th graders, had numerous elementary classes spend a day at the forest and utilized the forest for several summer school classes including high school Phy. Ed. – just to name a few.
School district staff members are realizing the many benefits of taking students to the school forest. Not only does it provide them with an outdoor classroom where environmental science lessons can be taught, but it addresses many other skills and behaviors that are much needed in our schools today. Research tells us that outdoor education increases students’ attendance, helps build self-confidence and fosters an appreciation for the world in which we live. In a world where students are often choosing to stay indoors and engaging with technology, spending time outdoors in the natural environment is becoming less of a priority and creates a society where people are disconnected from the very environment that sustains us. In his book, “Last Child in the Woods,” Richard Louv, describes this phenomenon as devastating as an illness and calls it “Nature Deficit Disorder.” By utilizing the school forest, the Antigo School District hopes to combat this “disease” and help our children appreciate and respect the natural world.
Due to the increased use of the school forest, the Antigo School District is in the process of planning a new environmental education center at the school forest. The plan is to construct a four-season shelter on the shore of Noboken Lake. The new shelter will provide a place for outdoor education to take place year-round and during inclement weather. It will provide more equitable access for all school district students and will be a working laboratory for forestry, wildlife and other experiential learning activities. Being located on the lake, it will provide more opportunities to explore our water resources and, with modern technology and amenties, it will make a visit to the forest a bit more enjoyable.
In addition to the educational benefits, an increased use of the school forest by our students will also result in increased health benefits and provide support for our forest industry. The building will be available for public use and trails will be easily accessible to the public – just one more option for hikers and snowshoers to enjoy in our “County of Trails.” Through forestry education, we hope to spark an interest in career choices in the forest industry which is a major employer in our surrounding communities.
Fundraising efforts are underway to get this project up and running. The goal is to raise $500,000 and begin construction next spring. An anonymous donor has graciously agreed to match donation up to half of the total cost and several other organizations, businesses and individuals have donated or made commitments to donate. Several donors have given over $10,000 and are being recognized as “Legacy Donors.” Their contributions, as well as all other contributions, will go a long way to helping achieve our goal of “Surpassing the Standards in an Outdoor Environment.” If you would like to know more about this project or schedule a presentation, please contact Mike Werdeo (715-623-7611) or Tim Prunty (715-627-4355) or visit our website – http://www.antigo.k12.wi.us/district/noboken-environmental-education-center.cfm. Donations can be sent directly to the Unified School District of Antigo, 120 S. Dorr St., Antigo, WI 54409 or you can donate online by clicking on the “Donate” button on the website.